Positional Methods From Carlsen's Play, The End

Positional Methods From Carlsen's Play, The End

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Today's article is the last in series of positional methods from Magnus Carlsen's games. Being aware of the World Champion's style it is no surprise that the topic of piece exchanges wraps up this theme. Carlsen is extremely good in this area - he senses the moments of when to liquidate to a position with less pieces very well. 

Many of Carlsen's games end up in endgame stages and he plays those late stages of the game like a virtuoso. Anand mentioned that "you could say that both Fischer and Carlsen had or have the ability to let chess look simple."

Exchanges is a broad topic that cannot be covered in one article. I will touch base several important aspects of it with six positiona chosen from Carlen's play.

Exchanges can sometimes lead to a position with a clear edge and without counterplay for the opponent. One can slowly improve and build the position and wait and see if the opponent collapses. The nature of the exchange in the first example is of this kind.

This is a typical Sicilian pawn structure, where Black advanced the e-pawn. One of the rules of thumb in this position is that White can almost never capture on d4 with a pawn. The d5-square is for the pieces. One of main themes in this position is play against the d6-pawn (since the white rooks are already positioned on the c- and d-files). If White blocks the d5-square with the pawn, then the d6-pawn will no longer be a weakness. Carlsen, with a series of exchanges, simplifies into a better endgame. He pressures the opponent until the end of the game but Ivanchuk defends well and the game weathers to a draw.

In the above game it didn't work out for Carlsen to win the game. He was pressing and did maximum work, but the position was very much defendable for Black. A similar strategy led to a win in the next position.

The exchange of the bishop for the knight leads to an endgame where White has two passed pawns on the queenside. Surely, the white king is exposed and Carlsen has to show some accuracy, but after the queens are gone it is surely winning for White. First, Carlsen improves his position by bringing the king and centralizing the pieces and then starts advancing his passed pawn, while picking up some pawns on the kingside.


A video on the end of this game by ChessVibes

One can be on the receiving end of exchanges. Your opponent wants to enforce a trade that is not favorable to you. In such a situation avoiding the trade is the right solution. With the bishops, it is usually the side who has a firm control over the squares that the bishop controls who wants to exchange the bishops.

In the following example, White has most of his pawns on dark squares and naturally with the last move he wants to rid Black of the dark-squared bishop. Carlsen is more willing to trade the bishop for the knight as after that he can regroup on the c-file and capture the light squares. The white bishop can get to d6 but its presence there will not be as detrimental as if the knight appeared there.

Winning material is a big topic with exchanges. However, it is not always as straight-forward and one has to calculate many lines to make sure that the exchange leads to win of material.

In the next position Carlsen had to see a "trunk-type" line nine moves ahead to justify the exchange. This line probably did not take him long to calculate.

In the next position Carlsen has a choice to make. He can trade into a worse endgame, with a rook for two pieces or keep the things alive in a worse position in the middlegame. The first choice, especially against a player like Ivanchuk presented just endless suffering. On the other hand, the middlegame is worse than the endgame objectively but the opponent has chances to go wrong. Carlsen chooses to keep things complicated and surely enough a few moves into the game Ivanchuk slips and hands the advantage to Carlsen.   

A video on the end of this game by ChessVibes

From the pawn structure one can deduce that the following position came about from a Queen's Indian. The pawn structure in the center has not been decided yet. Black can either end up with an isolated pawn if he captures on d4, or hanging pawns if White captures the c5-pawn. In either scenario it is preferable for Black to keep more pieces on the board.

Carlsen finds an original solution - he exchanges a pair of pieces to get more space for his tangled up knights. As he comments in ChessBase annotations: "I decided that it was time to ease the pressure." There are several advantages to 22...Bxc3. Black gets the e4-square for the knight, from where it can be exchanged for Bb3. Secondly, Black almost forces White to decide the situation in the center as it is not clear what other plan White can choose. And lastly, Carlsen is spectacular in endgames, and chess is a practical game, so we cannot ignore this fact.

Next week will be my last article, wrapping up the five years of writing for Chess.com. Don't miss it!


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